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Life on the Internet changes constantly, and digital marketing is changing right along with it. While some of those changes have managed only to complicate e-commerce, a wonderful thing has begun to happen: Interruption marketing is dying.

For the better part of a decade, flashy banner ads and infuriating pop-up ads were accepted as part of the Internet experience. But as smart brands began to recognize the ability of social networks to create brand advocates and maintain audiences, they also recognized early on that interruption marketing simply wasn’t sustainable.

What’s emerged to take the place of interruption marketing is a host of tactics designed to build and maintain communities through shareable content. From surreptitious product placement in movies and TV shows to games designed around social networks, putting the main focus on quality content – not products or services – allows brands to ask users for permission to advertise. And they’re getting it.

New platform, old tricks

But there’s nothing new under the sun, and today’s high-tech world has taken advertising lessons from the past. Anyone who was around when General Electric Theater was on the air is familiar with the concept of sponsored content. As television became more popular in the 1950s, entertainment with built-in advertising content helped change the social fabric of the country. In fact, GE Theater may have had a hand in giving a certain future president his first real taste of nationwide popularity.

Sponsored content has been around for as long as radios and black and white TVs, but brands and agencies are finding creative and impressive ways to offer shareable content to users.  Examples range from the sly to the shameless, but good examples of sponsored content barely feel like advertising at all—and the best examples encourage users to participate and contribute to online communities.

Adoration and antiperspirants

By targeting young men with its smell-good-and-get-chicks campaign, Axe quickly built a recognizable brand. But the company also recognized that its target audience might grow up one day and want to settle down. So Axe has softened its approach by reminding all those young men of the girl of their dreams: Susan Glenn.

Every guy has a Susan Glenn. The girl who makes a guy’s heart skip a beat, the girl whose love of comic books and science fiction makes her the coolest chick he knows. “Not girl,” the voice of Kiefer Sutherland reminds viewers, but “the girl.” Guys watching this commercial might flash back to the first girl they kissed … or their prom date … or the girl they end up marrying. And Axe’s Susan Glenn page encourages guys to share what they love about their own Susan Glenns through social media. With so few advertisers willing to appeal to a young man’s vulnerable side, Axe has staked its claim on a lucrative demographic in a new way — by telling a love story.

Digital Samaritans and soft drinks

This summer, a video of security camera clips started popping up on Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines.  The footage caught people performing random acts of kindness – from helping a couple of guys carry a sofa across the street, to saving a woman from a burning minivan. At the end of the video, a man buys a Coke from a vending machine and gives it to his friend. It’s a reminder that regular people can positively impact the lives of friends and strangers, and these small kindnesses happen every day.

This warm and fuzzy video was shared and viewed more than 2 million times— and many of those viewers never caught on that the minute-and-a-half-long video was an ad. But for a brand like Coca-Cola, product visibility is beside the point; it’s the association with do-gooding that counts. Appealing to the emotions of an audience is an essential element of good advertising, and any piece of content that strikes the right emotional chord is incredibly shareable.

Mobile gaming: The new digital goldmine?

With millions of people spending billions of hours gaming, it makes sense that digital marketing would move into that space. And as games become less console-centric, mobile gaming has the potential to create a new genre. MMOs have been popular for more than a decade, and smartphones have made mobile gaming more popular and social.

Right now Ingress, Google’s new augmented reality game, is unique. That’s not to say the game’s concept is new: Old-school AOL members might remember Electronic Arts’ Majestic, a game that pushed the boundaries of digital gaming with IM’s, phone calls and other communication with players in real time.

But Ingress is also the perfect vehicle for collecting and using player data. The game makes its players creep around their cities, searching for pieces of “exotic matter” that were created in the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator. Players must use their smartphones to find and “hack” other objects and communicate with other players.

Ingress is still in closed beta, but once it goes public the game could eventually incorporate elements like location and demographic data. The game’s platform – Google’s Android OS – not only gives the game a feeling of exclusivity, but it encourages players to interact with their phones in new ways. At the moment it’s not an ad vehicle…but it is a Google mobile game. So there’s a strong possibility that Ingress could eventually be used to generate revenue. But if a game’s popular and engaging enough, players won’t care.

Internet denizens tend to be selective about the advertising they tolerate—and if it’s interruptive, it’ll be aggressively dismissed. Think about it: how many times have you quickly clicked “Skip ad” when opening a YouTube video, or closed a browser tab less than a second after an annoyingly tinny tune starts automatically?

But fun, educational and addictive content is the best and most effective marketing tool there is. Interruption marketing and permission marketing aren’t new, but they’re both taking on new forms in the digital marketplace – and the Internet is a better place because of it.

For more content marketing tips, check out our free guide: The 5 Ws of Content Creation.

Sharmin Kent
Sharmin Kent is the Content Marketing Coordinator at DigitalRelevance. In addition to editing and contributing to the DigitalRelevance blog, she also drives content creation efforts for the brand.
Sharmin Kent
Sharmin Kent
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Content, Inbound Marketing, Strategy | 1 Comment

One thought on “Sponsored Content: Internet Advertising, the Old-Fashioned Way

  1. wonderful insight Sharmin. especially the gaming idea is pretty fresh, made me wonder a bit…thanks for taking your time out and sharing this wonderful article.

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